The US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s (DOE/NNSA) said on 1 March that, as part of efforts to modernise capabilities and facilities at the Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12), it had awarded a $57.5 million Phase 1 contract to Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) for the design and pilot demonstration of highly enriched uranium (HEU) conversion and purification services. NFS is a subsidiary of US-based BWX Technologies (BWXT).
This contract serves as a bridging strategy to enable Y-12 to develop and implement more modern technologies with improved efficiency and safety to carry out this mission for the long-term, NNSA noted. “This contract with NFS will result in no reduction in workforce at Y-12.” NNSA is modernising facilities, equipment, and processes used at Y-12 to recycle and recover HEU, some of which are over 70 years old and in need of replacement, while pursuing this bridging strategy with NFS, “ensuring it will continue to meet the needs of the Department of Defense and the Nation”.
Pending the results of this Phase 1 contract with NFS, NNSA will determine if a follow-on, Phase 2 contract will be awarded. If Phase 2 is pursued, NFS would provide uranium purification and conversion services to bridge the capability gap until Y-12 implements its new capabilities. NNSA said it remains fully committed to Y-12 as the Nation’s Uranium Centre of Excellence, as evidenced by continued increasing investments including this year’s funding of over $2 billion for national security programmes on the campus.
Under this contract, NFS said it will provide a final design and pilot process demonstration using natural or depleted uranium (DU) to convert oxide to purified HEU metal. Because NNSA needs a bridging capability for conversion of oxide to purified HEU metal, NFS will design a process that could provide uranium purification and conversion services during the ‘bridge’ period until the Y-12 National Security Complex re-establishes a future oxide conversion capability.
“As an NRC-licensed Category 1 nuclear facility, NFS is uniquely qualified to meet the needs of NNSA by providing it with expanded HEU processing capability,” said Joel Duling, BWXT Nuclear Operations Group president. “We are proud to utilise our existing operational infrastructure, security framework and workforce expertise to provide this bridging capability as Y-12 continues its modernisation efforts and role as our nation’s Uranium Centre of Excellence.”
Work will begin immediately under the contract. NNSA previously announced its intent to award a contract for this work. In that announcement, NNSA stated, “To support its full range of mission needs, the NNSA’s Uranium Programme Office is seeking an industry partner to provide Uranium purification capabilities. NNSA requires that the purification and conversion capabilities provided by the Contractor allow for HEU materials of various forms (such as metal and oxide) to be purified and converted to a safe metal form that meets government specification.”